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So You Wanna Be a Mobster Get Made, Get Paid, Get Babes-Start Your Own Mafia Family
By JOHN SIALIANO CITADEL PRESS Copyright © 2008 John Sialiano
All right reserved.
Chapter One Meet the Mafia
How a Bunch of Sicilian and Jewish Underachievers Created a Multibillion-Dollar Criminal Empire
Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall): It's an old Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino): Well, he certainly drank like one! -A scene you never saw from The Godfather (Part I)
Even though there are more opportunities now than ever before for the average Joe to become an average "Joey Bananas," you can't just sit back and decide to join the Mafia. A certain amount of groundwork needs to be laid, and that starts with doing your research. It's the same as if you were going to head into a legitimate venture, although I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. But that's another story.
It is absolutely essential to your success as a bona fide mafioso to know as much as you can about who came before you-who kicked ass and rocked their city, and who fucked up big time. (And in case you're too thick to grasp it yourself, the idea here is to model your Mafia career as closely as you can to those of the guys who didn't fuck up, because in gangland, "going out of business" is usually permanent. Remember, experience is the best teacher.
In this chapter, you will:
* Learn how and why the Mafia was born
* Learn about the baddest, meanest wiseguys who ever sported silk suits and pinkie rings, and follow the path to their success-or two bullets behind the ear
* Find your Mafia muse
What Started It?
Technically, the Mafia started in Italy, in Sicily, during the mid-1880s. The Sicilians were getting pretty damned tired of every asshole under the sun, from the French to the Spanish to even their own neighbors to the north in mainland Italy invading their bucolic island, stealing their cheese and Chianti, and raping their women. (And who could blame them? How would you feel if some stronzo kept stealing your Chianti?) So the Sicilians created a secret society to kick interloper ass and called it mafiusu, which translates roughly as "boldness" or "bravado." Of course, if you ask any true-blue wiseguy what the real name of the Mafia is called, he'll tell you it's la Cosa Nostra: meaning "our thing" or sometimes "this thing of ours."
The American Mafia came to power back in the 1920s, when a group of Jewish and Italian immigrants found a golden opportunity to make money: Prohibition. The Volstead Act became law when a bunch of well-meaning fatheads down in Washington decided to make booze illegal for the good of mankind. But they forgot one small item: when a man wants a drink, he'll do anything to get it, even if it's illegal. Seeing this, some smart, tough, and resourceful guys found a way to meet the demands of a thirsty America. It was called bootlegging-and these guys blasted their way to a king's ransom.
Irish mobsters controlled most of the rackets at first, until ambitious and enterprising Italians such as Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello and Jews such as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel came up out of the slums of New York's Lower East Side. They bumped off the competition and built a criminal empire off the profits of illegal booze. With this bankroll, they moved into the other rackets-loan-sharking, gambling, prostitution, protection, and more-exploiting every vice known to mankind. It's all about teamwork.
Now, if you're too lazy to do any further reading on how the Mafia was born in America, watch both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. (Skip the third one-it sucks.) Brando and company pretty much nailed it.
If you were thinking of calling your organization this, fugged-abouddit. The name's been taken, and by stone-cold killers with names like Kid Twist Reles, Tic Toc Tannenbaum, Blue Jaw Magoon, Pugsy Feinstein, Charlie the Bug, and Pittsburgh Phil Strauss, who dispatched his victims with an icepick and once opined, "It's okay to do murder as long as I don't get caught."
Murder, Inc. consisted of a group of the aforementioned Brooklyn thugs and was headed by kill-crazy mob boss Albert Anastasia, who was also known as "the Lord High Executioner" for his readiness to kill anyone, anytime, for any major or minor infraction. Murder, Inc. served as the enforcement arm of the Syndicate-on call 24/7, the boys of Murder, Inc. were responsible for all the killings, dismemberments, and forced vacations, usually permanent, of rivals.
Murder, Inc. fizzled in the early 1940s when Abe "Kid Twist" Reles sang like a canary after he got busted, so he could avoid the electric chair. He exposed more than seventy murders and alluded to hundreds more. It's likely he would have implicated a lot of the higher-ups, such as Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia, had he not mysteriously fallen to his death from a sixth-floor window at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island-and while under the "protection" of six armed police officers. The canary could sing, the mob boys said after hearing the news, but he couldn't fly.
The lesson you can take away from his, well, "fall from grace?" Keep your trap shut. Omertà (see page 51) is sacred; if you become a rat, know that you will be exterminated.
The Top Bananas (and Bonannos)
Organized crime was built by the cunning, resourcefulness, greed, and evil deeds of some very bad boys. (Or some very ambitious and enterprising businessmen, depending on your point of view.) You won't find every mobster that ever lived here-just the big boys, the architects of organized crime in America.
First, the Jewish Mobsters
Like I said, Jewish mobsters came first. They did some bad things, they made a shitload of cash, but then they disappeared from the mob scene altogether, because they didn't want their children "in the life."
Meyer Lansky (born 1902, as Majer Suchowlinski; died 1983) a.k.a. "the Little Man"
One of Meyer Lansky's biggest claims to fame was that he started the National Crime Syndicate with his old friend from the Lower East Side, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and later helped consolidate all the mobs both Italian and Jewish across the United States. Lansky's favorite racket was gambling, and he had the market cornered in New York, Florida, and Cuba by the mid 1930s. He was also a big investor in Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo (see page 7), the first of the big Las Vegas hotel-casinos. Together, Siegel and Lansky helped Luciano rise to the pinnacle of Mafia power, dispatching old-time mob bosses, or "moustache Petes" as they were derisively called, such as Salvatore Maranzano and Joe "the Boss" Masseria (see page 12). Luciano's advice to his underworld assoiates was, "Always listen to Meyer." One FBI official grudgingly said of Lansky, "He could have been the head of General Motors if he'd gone into legitimate business."
Of course, he did also have a hand in Siegel's undoing, but we'll get into that a little later.
There's a rumor that Lansky was in possession of photos of J. Edgar Hoover in drag, and this could be the reason Hoover didn't put much effort into hunting down Lansky in particular or organized crime in general. On the other hand, Lansky was an expert at flying below the radar. He never officially owned any property and, after his death, there wasn't a dollar listed anywhere in his name.
For these reasons, Lansky makes a great career criminal to model your own career after-just about the best. He was one of the "lucky ones" after all: when he died in Miami Beach, he wasn't in jail (in fact, he had only served one short sentence in his life); it was natural causes that did him in (lung cancer-at eighty-one!), and he was still reportedly worth $300 million. (To which his widow scoffed, "I'd like to know where all that money is!" ) The character of Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II-chillingly portrayed by the late Lee Strasberg-was based on Mr. Lansky.
Benjamin Siegel (born 1906, as Benjamin Siegelbaum; died 1947) a.k.a. "Bugsy"
During his fairly short-lived career, Siegel made a name for himself as the world's most famous Jewish hitman. His idea of breakfast was lead and bagels. And when you got a schmear from him, it was your last. The erratic and violent Siegel actually hated being called Bugsy, which essentially means "crazy." Those foolish enough to address Benny as "Bugsy" to his face rarely lived to do it a second time.
He was a childhood friend of Meyer Lansky, and later he, Lansky, and Charles Luciano became bootlegging kings during Prohibition. Lansky was the brains, Siegel was the muscle. In the late 1930s, Siegel was sent to Los Angeles by the Syndicate to keep an eye on its interests out there, specifically to infiltrate the unions that worked for the major movie studios. It was on a trip to Nevada that Siegel discovered a sleepy little town called Las Vegas-you know the rest.
Vegas may have been his claim to fame, but it also became his undoing. When Lansky and Frank Costello and the rest of the Outfit suspected Siegel was skimming mob money from the building of the first big casino, the Flamingo (so named for Siegel's girlfriend, mob moll Virginia Hill, whose nickname was Flamingo), Siegel shot to the top spot on the Syndicate hit list. Most people believe that Bugsy was killed by a bullet shot clean through the eye, but it was actually a bullet through the cheek and nose that did him in.
Is he a good guy to model your career after? That all depends on what you consider important. True, he pretty much invented Las Vegas, and his zeal for partying earned him the title "King of the Sunset Strip." And we can pretty much thank him for "Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" (and there are probably hundreds of his own "secrets" buried in shallow graves all over the desert over there). And he did have lots of hot chicks swarming around him all the time. But he made that one mistake that inevitably proves fatal for budding mobsters: he got greedy. And he got caught. I rest my case.
If you take any lesson away from the life and death of Bugsy Siegel, it should be this: stealing from your buddies is a great way to terminate a friendship-with extreme prejudice.
Dutch Schultz (born 1902, as Arthur Flegenheimer; died 1935) a.k.a. "the Dutchman"
Revered and feared for his brutal displays of violence, Schultz was one of the meanest, most vicious gangsters of all time.
Born of German Jewish descent in the Bronx, he was arrested early on, and became the bane of the staff at the prison where he was detained, by torturing them mercilessly. He also aggravated them by escaping once or twice.
Schultz reigned as a top bootlegger and alcohol infiltrator of unions, and ran a hugely profitable numbers racket in Harlem, all of which made him a very wealthy man. But in 1935, things started to turn sour. The law was cracking down on the rackets. Schultz found himself in the crosshairs of ambitious Manhattan DA Thomas Dewey. Schultz's solution was simple: kill Dewey. His mob pals, who included Luciano, Lansky, Frank Costello, et al., opposed the move-killing Dewey, they argued, would bring down too much heat on all of them. Schultz defied their hands-off-Dewey edict and thereby sealed his own doom. (Not to mention, mob greed being what it was, Luciano and Co. eyed Schultz's rackets with envy.) Plus, Schultz was a little too fond of inflicting bodily harm at a time when the mob was trying to chill out on the whole violence thing. Dutch had to go.
He was ambushed in the Palace Chophouse in Newark, New Jersey, by a team of Murder, Inc.'s finest (who included Charles "the Bug" Workman and Emanuel "Mendy" Weiss), who opened fire on him and his boys. As legend has it, Dutch was gunned down in the men's crapper. He preferred, however, not to die in a toilet. He managed to drag his bullet-riddled near-corpse out of the bathroom and had someone call an ambulance. He made it to the hospital, where he endured hours of massive surgery; but hours later, he developed peritonitis and died.
Despite his wealth and fearsome reputation, however, the mortally wounded Schultz would become famous for the insane gibberish he muttered to police from his deathbed, while he was delirious from a high fever and hopped up on morphine. Savor these nuggets:
* "A boy has never wept ... nor dashed a thousand kim"
* "You can play jacks, and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it"
* "Oh, oh, dog biscuit, and when he is happy he doesn't get snappy"
* "French Canadian bean soup"
What can you take away from all this? If you're doped up on morphine, don't talk to anyone-especially the heat. You can undo a lifetime of terror and power and respect with French-Canadian bean soup. On the plus side, however, Schultz is credited with the invention of cement shoes-filling a vat with wet cement, plopping his enemies down into it until the stuff dried. The poor schmuck would then be put on a motorboat and unceremoniously dumped overboard. So we all owe the Dutchman for a very effective method of making our enemies disappear permanently.
Arnold Rothstein (born 1882; died 1928) a.k.a. "Mr. Big," "the Fixer," "the Man Uptown," "the Big Bankroll," "the Brain"
This famed New York "businessman" was a top bootlegger (he allegedly coined the phrase "Why buy retail, bootlicker, when you can buy it from me wholesale?") during Prohibition, but his main claim to fame is that he was alleged to be the man responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series. He paid off players on the Chicago White Sox to throw the game, and made a ton of cash on the result. F. Scott Fitzgerald based the character Meyer Wolfsheim, Jay Gatsby's shady pal, in The Great Gatsby, on Arnold Rothstein.
Widely invested in illicit gambling, narcotics distribution, and virtually every other racket, Rothstein had become a millionaire by age thirty. He was also a popular mediator between rival gangs, for a hefty sum, of course, and is credited by mob historians as the man who invented bootlegging.
Rothstein's career came to an abrupt halt in 1927 over a dispute during a poker game. He refused to pay some $320,000 he had lost because, ironically, he claimed the game had been fixed. A more popular belief, however, was that Dutch Schultz had put a hit on him because Rothstein's protégé, Jack Diamond, had whacked Schultz's friend, Joey Noe. Whatever-nobody in mobdom was too sorry to see Rothstein go. They wanted his rackets. And as usual, they got their way.
What can you learn from him? Well, you don't have to come from a crime family to make it big in the crime biz. Rothstein's father was actually a successful legitimate businessman. Also, though, what comes around goes around. When karma bites back in gangland, it bites hard. Lesson: When you're the king, some asshole will always try to knock you off the throne.
The Italian Invasion
It's not one hundred percent accurate to say that the Italians "took over" organized crime from the Jews; it's more like they swooped in and had more staying power. Initially, both groups worked in tandem. But, unlike how it was with the Italians, as Jewish wiseguys began dropping off, no one else wanted to take their places.
"I was in the bathroom taking a leak. I take a long leak." -Lucky Luciano, when asked by cops where he was at the time of Joe Masseria's death
Al Capone (born 1899, as Alphonse Gabriel Capone; died 1947) a.k.a. "Scarface"
Al Capone, probably the most infamous gangster in American history, is usually portrayed as a homicidal, cigar-chomping monster. The sinister-looking slash across his cheek (compliments of brute Frank Gallucio, whom he later hired as a bodyguard) didn't help. Capone brought a bloodthirsty savagery to the Mafia that even shocked his old friends back east.
Brooklyn-born to immigrants, Capone began his life of crime in New York before relocating to Chicago in 1919 at the request of another Brooklyn-born mobster, Johnny Torrio, who needed a man of Al's talents. There, he became a capo in charge of many of the booze and prostitution rackets in the city. Chicago was "his kind of town." Also, he was wanted back in New York for questioning in a couple of murders. Al decided to stick around the Windy City.
If you're looking to follow in his footsteps, study the details of his biggest success: the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre on Chicago's North Side. It's still the biggest bloodbath in gangland history-seven members of rival bootlegger Bugs Moran's gang were lined up against a garage wall and machine-gunned by Capone hitters dressed as cops. Fed up with their city being turned into a war zone, the good people of Chicago demanded Capone's head on a platter.
But it wasn't rival gangsters or even the cops that brought Scarface down. It was the bean counters at the IRS.
Now as role models go, you could do a lot worse than Capone. He ruled his criminal empire with an iron fist and whacked anyone who dared challenge him. However, you need to avoid repeating his biggest fuck-up. Although Capone survived many assassination attempts, he ultimately got pinched for tax evasion and was handed a sentence of eleven-plus years.
In his later years, Capone's mental capacity started to seriously deteriorate due to the syphilis he contracted when he was young, which for some reason was never treated. In 1947, Capone had a stroke, which he survived. But then a few days later, he contracted pneumonia and died. Capone Lesson #1: If you like to bang the bimbos-and who doesn't-just be careful where you stick your sausage. Catching a STD these days is as easy as ordering a pizza.
Perhaps the biggest lesson you can learn from Capone's life and career is to make sure you hire a damned good accountant to look after your finances. That, and the fact that a little antibiotics will go a long way.
"Only Capone kills like that!" -Bugs Moran, after hearing seven of his boys were cut down
Albert Anastasia (born 1902, as Umberto Anastasio; died 1957) a.k.a. "the Mad Hatter," "Lord High Executioner"
Albert Anastasia represented himself as a legitimate businessman, giving himself the title of "sales representative" for the Convertible Mattress Corporation in Brooklyn, New York. Of course, even in a time of a mob war, when every wiseguy in town is "going to the mattresses," there was no way an everyday salesman could amass the fortune Anastasia did.
Anastasia loved to kill and would do so at the slightest provocation. Which is why being one of the founding members of Murder, Inc. was such a natural fit for him. And thanks to Albert and his passion for bloodshed, his buddy, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, was able to become the boss of bosses. Still, Anastasia was a loose cannon and required a lot of supervision.
Excerpted from So You Wanna Be a Mobster by JOHN SIALIANO Copyright © 2008 by John Sialiano. Excerpted by permission.
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